State budget gap forces layoffs in local court system

MARION COUNTY — State funding shortfalls are taking a local toll, pushing the Fourth Judicial Circuit to lay off more than half its 17 court reporters on April 1 because of the state’s financial problems.

Chief Judge Michael McHaney said Tuesday that the circuit would lay off nine court reporters April 1, with a 10th reporter cut loose on May 1. The judge said the change will most notably affect private attorneys, who may have to hire their own reporters for civil cases.

The chief judge said he was notified of the possible shortfall in June, but added that he has — twice — been assured that the funding problem would be solved.

McHaney said, chief judges were told during their annual conference in February to develop a contingency plan that would leave the circuit with what he termed a “skeleton crew.”

McHaney met separately with Fourth Circuit court reporters and judges shortly after the conference to alert them to what might happen. He then received an e-mail from the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts directing chief judges to develop an emergency plan that would provide court reporters through June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

But the chief judge said that he doesn’t have the budget to comply with that directive.
McHaney, who replaced the retiring S. Gene Schwarm as chief judge last April 1, said the decision was by far the toughest he has had to make as chief judge.

The Fourth Circuit includes the counties of Christian, Clay, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Marion, Montgomery, and Shelby.

Judicial circuits throughout Illinois are suffering similar pressures, as lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner continue to disagree on how to close a $1.6 billion budget hole. Lawmakers will leave Springfield Thursday for a long weekend, likely without a solution.